World Aids Day: a reflection
Health and Beauty Nov 27, 2018
“Night has fallen, I’m lyin’ awake,
I can feel myself fading away,
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss,
Or will we leave each other alone like this
On the streets of Philadelphia.”
Bruce Springsteen, Streets of Philadelphia
Those are the lyrics from the critically acclaimed song, from the award-winning movie Philadelphia about a gay attorney who is fired from his law firm for having HIV/AIDS. He enlists the help of another lawyer, and they sue the firm responsible – and in the process cast light on the unfair discrimination against people living with the disease as well as the fallacies related to it.
There is a scene in the movie where the lawyer, who initially declined to help, sees his doctor, worried he might have caught the disease simply by being in close contact with an HIV/AIDS sufferer. The doctor explains how simple close contact doesn’t spread the disease, only an exchange of certain bodily fluids, like blood, do.
It was one of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to tackle the illness, its connection to the gay community, and homophobia in general. In the United States, gay men remain the highest population group afflicted by the condition.
However, in South Africa, it is the opposite; it’s heterosexuals primarily affected by it. We have an inordinately high percentage of people living with it. 19% of the South African population between 15 – 49 years, according to a study in 2016.
Fortunately, HIV/AIDS isn’t the death sentence it used to be. Thanks to anti-retroviral medicine, many AIDS suffers get to live normal lives. Still, it is considered a stigma – perhaps because it is a sexually-transmitted disease, and there are hang-ups around this topic in many cultures. It is almost as if it is considered to be the infected person’s fault for having the illness in the first place.
When young people die of the disease, sometimes it isn’t mentioned what they died from, though there are whispers. This is connected to shame the family may feel.
Yet there are HIV-Positive activist groups, like Treatment Action Campaign, who fight for acceptance. It is actually this shame surrounding the illness that makes the disease even more prevalent. People don’t want to get tested, don’t know their status, don’t take precautions that they need to, and don’t seek medical help – drastically lowering their lifespans.
If there is anything we should do, as a nation on World Aids Day this year, it is to consider how to talk about HIV/AIDS. Make it more acceptable to be a sufferer of it rather than a social stigma. Reinforcing the truth that you can’t contact the disease from an infected person in any way other than sex or blood contact, such as through open wounds.
We need an open dialogue on this disease, to educate our children better, and so halt the pandemic. It is a perfectly avoidable and treatable disease.
If we bring it out into the open and talk about it, perhaps we will eventually win the war on HIV/AIDS.
World Aids Day is on the 1st December 2018 – to read more click HERE
WHAT IS WORLD AIDS DAY?
World AIDS Day takes place on the 1st December each year. It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.
WHY IS WORLD AIDS DAY IMPORTANT?
Over 101,000 people are living with HIV in the UK. Globally, there are an estimated 36.7 million people who have the virus. Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
Today, scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and we understand so much more about the condition. Despite this, each year in the UK around 5,000 people are diagnosed with HIV, people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with the condition.
World AIDS Day is important because it reminds the public and government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.